MIAMI — In their final regular-season meeting for the foreseeable future, Miami gave its fans a pleasant lasting memory and made sure Florida won't forget it any time soon.
Capitalizing on a mistake-filled offensive performance from the Gators, the Hurricanes made the case they are truly back on the rise with their biggest win since beating No. 8 Oklahoma in 2009.
In front of a school-record crowd of 79,968 at Sun Life Stadium, Miami did just enough for a 21-16 upset of No. 12 Florida on Saturday.
"It's a good win," said third-year coach Al Golden, whose program still awaits the NCAA's punishment for an improper benefits scandal that broke during the summer of 2011. "It was almost cathartic. It was 26 months just unleashed there in the last four or five seconds.
"I'm proud of these guys. We couldn't handle this setting a year ago. I'm real proud of the way the guys fought. There was nothing easy on that field for either team. It was a good, hard-nosed football game."
There certainly was nothing easy for the Gators (1-1).
If you saw the game only on paper, you'd be hard-pressed to figure out how Florida actually lost. It outgained Miami 412-212 (122-50 rushing), ran 77 plays to Miami's 53 and had the ball for 38:20 of the game's 60 minutes.
"We moved the ball all over the field, had over 400 yards," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "I thought we mixed the run and pass well. I thought we did some good things at times. The bottom line is that you cannot continue to shoot yourself in the foot and give someone else the opportunity, especially on the road. And we certainly did that."
In the red zone, the Gators had one fumble at the 13, Jeff Driskel interceptions at the 22 and 17 and a failure on fourth and 1 at the 16.
"When we got in the red zone, turnovers and penalties really killed us," said Driskel who was 22-of-33 for 291 yards, a touchdown and the two interceptions and ran for a touchdown. "We really stress that in the offseason, and it killed us."
"Red zone is everything," Florida senior center Jon Harrison said. "Red zone offense, red zone defense, it's everything in a game.
"And we just couldn't capitalize in the red zone."
The first half couldn't have gone much worse for the Gators, whose opening drive was foiled by two penalties and a fumble by sophomore running back Matt Jones. Yet Florida trailed just 14-6 at halftime and despite the mistakes had its chances until the very end.
With 9:29 remaining in the game and trailing 14-9, freshman defensive back Vernon Hargreaves intercepted Stephen Morris and returned it 24 yards to the Miami 47.
But on third and 3 from the 17, Driskel was intercepted by Tracy Howard.
"It was a dumb play," Driskel said. "I should have just taken what the defense gave me, and instead, I tried to make a bigger play."
For Morris, 12-of-25 for 162 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, the win was validation for all of the Hurricanes, who at 2-0 could return to the Top 25 for the first time since 2010.
"It's a team effort," Morris said. "The defense kept giving us energy and giving us the ball back. Special teams was making big plays for us. It was only a matter of time. "It was a team effort and a great win."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @TBTimes_Gators.